WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as Republicans had hoped, high inflation was the top consideration for voters in the midterm elections, AP VoteCast shows. But the survey finds that a central issue for President Joe Biden, the survival of democracy, also weighed heavily on voters’ minds, as control of Congress – and a choice between starkly contrasting visions of America – were at stake.
The result, as early as Wednesday morning, was an election in which Democrats showed strength, appearing to avoid the massive losses that often beset the ruling party in a midterm vote. However, with ballots still being counted, it was unclear whether they would retain control of at least one house of Congress.
The survey paints a country mired in pessimism about America’s future and its political leadership, with lingering tensions in how people think of Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, shaping choices in the urns.
The detailed portrait of the American electorate is based on results from VoteCast, a large survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
About half of voters say inflation played a big role in their vote, as groceries, gas, housing, food and other costs have skyrocketed over the past year and have raised the specter of inflation. The economy was a top concern for voters, which about 8 in 10 say was in poor shape. A slim majority of voters say Biden’s policies have driven inflation to nearly 40 years, while just under half blame factors beyond his control, such as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Slightly fewer voters – 44% – say the future of democracy was their top concern. During the campaign trail, Biden warned that Republicans were a threat to democracy. Many GOP leaders continue to cast doubt on the US electoral system, falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost, was rigged.
Still, the “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, movement sparked by Trump appears to have tightened its grip on Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of GOP voters say they support the MAGA movement, a sign of the potential stalemate with Biden’s White House if Republicans win majorities in the House or Senate.
Republicans are betting on voter dissatisfaction with inflation, crime and immigration to help them win. Biden and his fellow Democrats have countered that America’s middle class is on the verge of a renaissance due to its investments in infrastructure, computer chip production and clean energy projects.
Nearly half of voters name the economy as the number one issue facing the country, and those voters support Republicans more than Democrats. No other issue comes close, but many other issues are named most important by about 1 in 10 voters. This includes abortion, health care, climate change and gun politics, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least three to one.
Voters have grown increasingly demoralized as the country’s political divisions have hardened. About three-quarters say the country is heading in the wrong direction. That figure is higher than it was in the VoteCast voter survey in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic was considered the country’s main problem; now only 2% of voters make it their top priority as other issues have taken center stage.
Biden’s election was partly because the pandemic was spiraling out of control under Trump’s leadership, VoteCast showed two years ago. A majority of voters said they thought he “cared about people like them”. A smaller percentage of 2022 voters say that.
Even Democrats have their doubts about Biden, who has said he plans to seek re-election in 2024, despite running for the Democratic candidates anyway. Nearly a third of voters of Democratic congressional candidates say Biden is not a strong leader. One in five Democrats says he lacks the mental capacity to serve effectively as president. And about 3 in 10 disapprove of his economic leadership.
The 2020 presidential election still looms over these congressional, state and local races. Nearly two-thirds of Democratic voters say they voted to show their opposition to Trump, while about 7 in 10 Republican voters say their votes were meant to challenge Biden.
Inflation has clearly taken a toll on the well-being of many Americans. A third of voters describe their families as financially behind. That’s almost double the percentage of the electorate who said the same thing two years ago.
About half of suburban voters supported Democrats nationally, slightly less than in 2020 and 2018. Democrats consistently fare better with women, while men are more likely to prefer Republicans . Voters under 45 tend to favor Democrats; older voters generally lean Republican.
Facing headwinds on the economy, Biden and many Democratic candidates have sought to tap into their base’s outrage after the Supreme Court struck down abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision enshrining the right to abortion.
VoteCast also shows that the reversal was largely unpopular. About 6 in 10 say they are angry or dissatisfied, while about 4 in 10 are satisfied. Among Democratic voters, about 6 in 10 say the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe made them angry.
Most voters were also at least somewhat concerned about crime in their communities, and half say the Biden administration has made the United States less crime-proof.
Despite concerns about democracy, about 4 in 10 voters say they are “very” confident that votes in the midterm elections will be accurately counted, an improvement from the percentage of the 2020 electorate who said so.
Many voters entered the elections with strong opinions. About half say they knew from the start how they would vote, while a third decided during the campaign, and about 1 in 10 say they made their choice in the past few days.
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and the Associated Press. The survey of 94,293 voters was conducted over nine days and ended when the polls closed. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter rolls; self-identified registered voters using NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population; and self-identified registered voters selected from non-probability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated at plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. Find more details on the AP VoteCast methodology at https://ap.org/votecast.